Lands council briefed on water worries
The Emery County Public Lands Council met in their regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 10. Those present were Chairman Dennis Worwood, Wes Curtis, Craig Johansen, Kirk Johansen, Tom Roush, Vernell Rowley, Dickson Huntington and Commissioners Ira Hatch and Drew Sitterud.
Craig Johansen gave the subcommittee report on water. He said that the county had received one inch of rain the weekend of Sept. 7. He reported that this is the first inch of rain the county has received since last November. "The reservoirs are empty and the irrigation systems have been turned off. Huntington/Cleveland irrigation will turn water into their system one more time on Wednesday."
Johansen also talked about wild and scenic rivers and how their designations could impact the county. A river and its environment should be protected in their free flowing condition without dams and other construction. There are three designations: wild which is free of impoundment and inaccessible by road, primitive and unpolluted; scenic which is free of impoundment and primitive; recreation which is accessible by roads.
Federal agencies are charged to prepare a comprehensive management plan for these designations. It was also mentioned that money is designated from a land and conservation fund and is available for the purchase of private lands along these designations, with the consent of the land owner. Condemnation of private lands was also mentioned as an alternative for reasonable public access of an area selected.
The possiblity that no dams or power plants or other public works would be allowed along such a designation was a source of concern for the council. No water resource project that would have a direct or adverse effect on the river would be allowed. A federal reserve water right will come with any designation.
Johansen said in our area the Bureau of Land Management has proposed 20 such sections of wild, 11 scenic and 10 recreation. The forest service has proposed six scenic and 17 recreation. On the Muddy drainage the BLM has proposed three wild, one scenic and one recreation and the forest service has proposed one recreation.
On the Ferron the forest service has proposed two recreation. On the Cottonwood the forest service has proposed three scenic and three recreation and on the Huntington Creek, two scenic and four recreation. On the San Rafael the BLM has proposed seven wild, four scenic and three recreation.
Each designation would to a differing degree effect development of the water resources. "I wanted you to be aware that this is coming upon us and the agencies are in the first part of their processes," said Johansen.
Commissioner Sitterud pointed out that some of the proposed designations are located along dry washes. Also, along with the designation a quarter of a mile of land up each side of the river will also be included for protection. The comment was made that designation essentially makes the area a wilderness study area.
Floyd Johnson from the BLM also pointed out that the proposed areas could be ineligible and they don't have to designate any of them.
Johansen said the Muddy has very few impoundments and that any designation on the lower Muddy would halt all upstream developments. Worwood also mentioned the conflict in the language of the bill which prevents projects from being funded which inhibit wild and scenic rivers. Also the new proposed project for Huntington/Cleveland irrigation to store winter water would come into conflict with any designation.
The recreation subcommittee report was next with Roush inviting everyone down to Swasey's Cabin for Public Lands Day on Sept. 28 at 9 a.m. A brochure on the day has been prepared and distributed and everything is set for the day. The dinner is being catered by BKs and everyone should bring their own lunch.
The heritage subcommittee was next with Curtis reporting that anything that will happen with the heritage bill currently in Congress right now will happen if it is attached to a larger bill. We will watch it closely and stay in contact with our congressman. Kathleen Truman reported that the community kiosks and I-70 kiosks are taking longer than expected but they should have them by October. The cowboy poetry book was also set back but is still in the works.
The grazing subcommittee report was next on the agenda. Huntington reported that he will be attending a planning meeting for the Quiviro grazing conference which is coming up. The elk field trip was discussed. He said there was a good turnout for the field trip to Horn Mountain where concerns about elk and their overgrazing in this drought year was discussed. Plant experts as well as those representing ranching and the DWR were present. Jim Gilson representing sportsmen was there as well. There has been no growth on the mountain this season and most of the plants have remained dormant. It was the general feeling that the elk had taken any regrowth.
The forest service trend study from a range scientist agreed that the area doesn't show quite as much use. According to the DWR the elk numbers are down on the Horn from 1583 to 961. They also maintain that elk use feed that the cattle don't eat. They determined the winter range is not overgrazed and with the slight reductions in use they think the food is there for the elk and they (DWR) will deal with the elk if they come down onto private ground.
Cattleman Clyde Magnuson said the elk have devastated the range and there was nothing left for the cattle and the elk should be reduced. "The cattlemen have taken a 50-60 percent cut in time and the number of cows and the elk should see a decrease as well."
Huntington said that Gilson said the sportsmen do not want to grow the herd at the expense of the cattlemen. No special hunts have been planned and the DWR is not taking any elk off. Huntington also said there seems to be a contradiction in thinking about how long the elk actually stay on the Horn. He believes they are there from November through March and some report that they just pass through the area.
Magnuson reported that their cattle are on rotations on the mountain, they graze an area for 30 days and are then moved. Every three to four years an entire allotment is rested. The elk are there feeding all the time.
Huntington said the DWR governs itself and they don't answer to anyone. Their figures support their positions and they couldn't contradict that.
It was mentioned that people who ride ATVs in the Horn area do not think the elk counts are right and feel the numbers are possibly higher. Magnuson said land owners are afraid of public opinion and do not come forth when the elk come down onto their lands and damage them. The cattlemen need the support of the public lands council in working with the DWR to control the elk when they come down into the valley.
Huntington said the DWR plans to educate the public and put out bulletins with information pertaining to these issues. Craig Johansen said there is a process the landowner has to go through by notifying the DWR in writing of damages to their land and the DWR will reimburse the landowner for damages and will also provide materials for fencing to be installed around haystacks.
It was reported that there are already elk in the valley now. Worwood suggested they invite the DWR to attend all public lands meetings so they can keep the council updated on the elk situation as well as landowners bringing their concerns before the council. It was also pointed out that the DWR said a tough winter could wipe out one third of the elk herd. It was also mentioned that Fish Lake is requesting any excess elk or elk causing trouble to be relocated in their area.
The forest service update was next with John Healy talking about President Bush's healthy forest initiative. They will be looking at places where fire might be a problem in areas where the forest and the community meets. In the Ferron/Price district, the Clear Creek area is an example of where the timber reaches the community. The area behind the Ferron Reservoir has been logged, and the homes in Joe's Valley are buffered by the reservoir. In Mount Pleasant a lot of work has been done around the summer homes in the area.
Commissioner Hatch said there are also problems away from populated areas in heavily wooded areas. Healy said prescribed burns will be used to reduce fuel loading in the back country, but they will have to look at other ways near homes. He also reported a valid find of a hit on a trap with fur from a Canadian Lynx. All the repercussions of having a lynx in the area are not known. If they are found in the area, it could effect prescribed burns because the lynx's habitat is a heavily wooded area. If the animal was found to just be passing through the Joe's Valley area then it will not need to be managed for.
Floyd Johnson was next with the BLM update. He said they had a meeting last month with the state to coordinate the efforts between the forest service and the BLM in regards to the wild and scenic rivers. They are in the preliminary stage of the process before the public involvement phase. "There will be three stages in a clean and succinct process. We will probably end up with less than the amount nominated. In determining eligibility each nomination will be reviewed for free flowing and outstanding remarkable values. Each will be evaluated on the nine values which include scenic and historical values. We will determine if the values are significant on a regional basis which includes the Colorado Plateau. The RMP process will determine suitablility. Even if a river is eligible it might not be suitable. There is a lot to be done and we will be meeting with the counties involved. Selections will be taken to the public for review and scrutiny. We are only looking at the eligibility now in this three step process.
"We are reviewing the public comments received on the travel plan to decide on whether we need to make changes," said Johnson.
He also said the wild and scenic river process has been an eye opener for them, because a dry wash qualifies if it is not impeded and does have water flow at some point in time. During the next two-three months any special interest group will have a shot and can comment on the recommendations. Johnson was also questioned on mineral rights and other activities that could be curtailed with such a designation. He said each particular situation would have to be addressed and as long as scenic value is protected such operations could go forth, but he didn't know for sure. It would also depend on the classification of that particular segment of river.
Patrick Gubbins was introduced to the meeting. He is the new field manager for the Price District. He said he has been with the BLM for nine years and in the field for 25 years. He was a field manager in Montana and in South Dakota. "It is good to be here and meet you," he said.
The next item up for discussion was the situation at the Skyline Mine with the water. Emery, Carbon and Sanpete counties are partnering to study the situation. An emergency grant in the amount of $594,000 was awarded for this purpose by the CIB. The study will look at the water coming into the mine from the aquifer and determine where it is coming from.
Doug Johnson from Skyline Mine was on hand to discuss the situation the mine is in. He said the situation has been ongoing for a year now. They conducted a study of the sandstone layer below the mine seam to try to determine where the water was coming from. He pointed out with this new study the hope is to determine how much water is available and how to develop the water to benefit those three counties.
He said Canyon Fuel and PacifiCorp have been meeting monthly and working well together in helping to avert the disaster of not having enough water to run the power plant. A new pump has been ordered that will increase the amount of water being pumped into Electric Lake from 2,100 gallons per minute to 4,000 gpms. Eight thousand gpm are being pumped out of the mine workings into Eccles Creek and down into Scofield.
A year ago the mine petitioned to change the classification of Electric Lake. The reclassification was granted but the mine does not have a permit to discharge into the lake and does not plan on obtaining one at this time. The mine will be moving into the Winter Quarter lease and leaving the area with the water problem. It is estimated they still have a year and a half worth of mining in the Flat Canyon lease which they are leaving. All mining will be to the north. The Flat Canyon lease is located in Sanpete County.
The question of how much it was costing the mine to operate the pumps was asked. Johnson said in the past year they have incurred $20 million in operating costs and it is not economical for them to operate in that section of the mine any longer.
When the mine moves to the north the pumps within the mine workings will be shut off. The portal will be sealed off and the water will rise within the mine. It is believed the water will raise to a certain point and then because of pressure which will build up it will quit rising. It is estimated this will take about six months or more.
When the pumps outside the mine in James Canyon were shut off for a time it didn't impact the flow within the mine much at all said Johnson.
Dennis Ward from the Huntington/Cleveland irrigation company said they need to be notified of meetings and issues pertaining to the water because it is within their company's jurisdiction.
Commissioner Hatch said one of the purposes of the study will be to determine if the water qualifies as a possible source for development and that as that is determined all parties will be involved.
Last November the classification was changed that would allow for discharge into Electric Lake. In order for this discharge to be legal, the water would have to be collected and piped directly from the wall face of the coal seam and could not be water that had run through the mine. Skyline does not have plans to apply for permits but Johnson said, "Anyone who wants to drill and take water out is welcome to do that, but we just couldn't afford another hole. We would be glad to work with anyone who wants to do that."
It was also mentioned that there are filings and letters of protests against those filings. The Huntington/Cleveland filing was protested by PacifiCorp and there have been filings by Price City and the Price Water Conservancy District, but there is not enough information yet to hold hearings. Conclusive information which people are comfortable with is not available yet. The study will help determine what should be done along these lines as well.
Anything approved will operate within existing rights and would not be sold as a brand new source of water. The elevation of the portal in Eccles Canyon is 8,650 feet and the spillway of Electric Lake is 8,575 feet. The seals in the mine will be above the expected level the water will fill to.
Mark Mansfield from PacifiCorp said it is too close to call as to whether they will have enough water to operate the plant through the winter. There is approximately one month of dead storage in Electric Lake which could be used. Another well is being looked at for James Canyon. The two wells are currently putting 5,500 gpm into the lake. When the water comes to the surface the water rights belong to the Huntington/Cleveland irrigation. PacifiCorp hopes to just make it to the spring runoff. They might lease water to get the plant through until then. They are working on the final permitting process to run power across the forest service land and also for access for drilling the lake bed. They will hopefully drill in the next few weeks before winter sets in and the new more powerful pump is due on Sept. 17.
The key in the drilling is to hit the fracture and not the sandstone. Only 300 gpms can be pumped from the sandstone and 4,000 gpms from the fracture. It is approximately 1,000 feet down to the water at a 7,940 foot elevation.
Gary Armstrong from Booz, Allen and Hamilton was next with an update on where they are on the monument process. He reported a technical workshop had been held on Aug. 28 in Price. A resource forum is upcoming on Sept. 19 and 20 at the Emery High from 6-9 p.m. each evening. This forum will include general sessions and breakout classes on various aspects of the Swell. Sixteen different presentations have been prepared by experts in the various fields. Public meetings will take place on Oct. 1 in Salt Lake and Oct. 2 in Price, Oct. 3 at the John Wesley Powell Museum in Green River beginning at 4:30 p.m. with an open house at 6:30 or 7 p.m. a general session and then breakout groups for discussion. The meeting in Castle Dale will be held on Oct. 4 with the same timetable at the Museum of the San Rafael.
The next item discussed was the survey being conducted by Dr. Allred. The general consensus was to rework the survey, some felt it was too complex and didn't ask the right questions. It was also a concern that grazing questions were left out of the survey. It was not clear whether any useful information would come out of the survey. Johansen commented that they would have their survey in November.
The newly produced video discussing the monument was shown to the lands council. The next public lands council meeting will be on Oct. 8 at 10 a.m.